Established network leads to major, internship, future career for graduating senior

Group of students standing near the endzone inside Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University. They are all wearing warm winter jackets, gloves and hats.
Jacob Mefford, third from right in back row, senior in food science, established a network of fellow students at Iowa State through his involvement in the Food Science Club and intramurals.

By Whitney Baxter

A family friend introduced Jacob Mefford to the world of food science, and he’s been hooked ever since.

Mefford, who graduates from Iowa State University later this month with a degree in food science, grew up near Chicago, Illinois. His family’s friend works for FONA International, a flavor company based in Geneva, Illinois. At the friend’s encouragement, Mefford would often take part in FONA’s consumer taste-test panels. That nourished his interest in the science of playing with ingredients to improve the taste of food and beverages.

Jacob Mefford wearing a grey suit jacket with a white shirt underneath
Jacob Mefford

He put this science to practice as a student at Iowa State during his FSHN 411: Food Ingredient Interaction class. There, he and fellow students experimented with adding different ingredients, such as various types of gluten-free flour, to recipes to see how the final products turned out.

“That class was my introduction to food product development,” Mefford said.

Using that knowledge, he helped his teammates in the food product development capstone course create a filled berry bar. The bar turned out to be a “high-quality finished product,” according to Kate Gilbert, associate teaching professor in food science and human nutrition and instructor of the course.

“His team members had unique skill sets, and he was able to harness their strengths very well,” Gilbert said. “Jacob can see the big picture and how concepts from a variety of classes fit together. This perspective will serve him well in his career as a food scientist.”

Mefford spent the summers after his freshman and sophomore years interning with FONA’s research and innovation department.

“I was part of a team that proactively worked on modifications that could go into a product to inhibit or amplify taste attributes, such as blocking the bitterness of caffeine,” Mefford said.

Wanting to expand his work in product development, he sought an internship at Niagara Bottling, a beverage manufacturer based in Los Angeles. Even though the company didn’t have an internship opportunity listed, he was able to make some connections within the company thanks to the network of industry professionals he had built. His perseverance led to Niagara offering him an internship working in product development on beverages and packaging.

At the end of the summer, Mefford was offered a full-time position with Niagara following graduation from Iowa State. Early next year, he will begin a one-and-a-half to two-year program during which he will rotate through several different departments, exploring his interests and gaining experience along the way.

“I was impressed by their willingness to put that time and effort into their employees to provide them with a variety of training and learning opportunities. I’m going to take advantage of that,” Mefford said.

In addition to the experience gained through his classes and internships, Mefford has built leadership skills through involvement in intramurals and the Food Science Club at Iowa State. He served as president of the club this past year, organizing several events, including social activities and the Field of Opportunities networking event.

“Jacob has a participative leadership style and does a great job of letting all of the executive and club members contribute to planning and decision-making,” Gilbert said. “He puts a lot of time in and is committed to the work it takes to be a good leader for the Food Science Club.”

He also has served as a teaching assistant for Paulo Fortes-Da-Silva, adjunct assistant professor in food science and human nutrition. Mefford said Fortes-Da-Silva makes class fun and engaging and strives to set students up for success.

“Jacob might come across as a shy person at first, but it won’t take long for you to notice that he has an engaging attitude toward his peers and is always positive,” Fortes-Da-Silva said. “In his work, he is calm under pressure, meticulous and attentive to details. He has been a very caring and competent laboratory teaching assistant. It’s been a pleasure to work with him.”